Anoxic sinkholes are unique geomorphological features of modern reef systems and in terms of “lake-like” sediment successions very special marine depositional environments. This study presents results of a sedimentological survey, which focuses on the “Great Blue Hole”, a circular Pleistocene karst cavity, situated in the shallow eastern lagoon of Lighthouse Reef Atoll (Belize, Central America). The investigated Blue Hole is located within the tropical cyclone belt and acts as consequence of its unique geomorphology as a giant sediment trap for both fair weather and storm sedimentation. As an important innovation step, we applied a multi-proxy approach based on textural, compositional and geochemical data to ensure a more reliable differentiation between sediments with fair weather and storm condition affiliation. Sediments having formed under both conditions were texturally categorized by determination of classical sedimentary parameters such as mean grain size and sorting. Sediment composition has been quantified in thin sections based on 40 samples discretely taken along a core from the bottom of the 125 m deep and 320 m wide cavern. Classification of sedimentary facies follows a modified scheme for unconsolidated carbonate sediments based on the Dunham nomenclature. Fair-weather sediments are generally finer than 20 μm and consist on average of 81% carbonate fine material, 12% Halimeda platelets, 3% coral fragments, 2% organic material, 1% mollusc shells, 1% foraminifer tests, and minor portions of coralline red algae and echinoderm plates (0–1%). Intercalated event bed sediments are coarse-silt to sand-sized (> 20 μm) and differ in terms of generally lower fine carbonate material amounts (50%) and increased abundances of over-washed Halimeda platelets (28%) and coral fragments (6%). Combined analyses of this study have revealed four primary sedimentary facies with affiliation either to the background (mudstone) or cyclonic event sedimentation (Halimeda wackestone, algae-rich packstone, coralgal rudstone) as well as a transitional sub-facies indicating storm-induced background overprinting (background wackestone). The striking compositional and textural differences of the Halimeda wackestone, algae-rich packstone and coralgal rudstone facies are considered to be another helpful (semi)-quantitative proxy to identify event beds of tropical cyclones in unconsolidated sinkhole sediment successions.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article and its supplementary material. Correspondence and requests for raw materials should be addressed to D.S (email@example.com).
Adomat F, Gischler E (2015) Sedimentary patterns and evolution of coastal environments during the Holocene in Central Belize, Central America. J Coast Res 31–4:802–826
Blott SJ, Pye K (2001) GRADISTAT: a grain sizes distribution and statistics package for the analysis of unconsolidated sediments. Earth Surf Proc Land 26:1237–1248
Boss SK, Lidell DW (1987) Patterns of sediment composition of Jamaican fringing reef facies. Sedimentology 34(1):77–87
Brown LA, Reinhard EG, van Hengstum PJ, Pilarczyk JE (2014) A coastal Yucatan sinkhole records intense Hurricane events. J Coast Res 30–2:418–428
Calhoun RS, Fletcher CH, Harney JN (2002) A budget of marine and terrigenous sediments, Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaiian Islands. Sediment Geol 150:61–87
Chave KE, Smith SV, Roy KJ (1972) Carbonate production by coral reefs. Mar Geol 12:123–140
Choi DR, Ginsburg RN (1982) Siliciclastic foundation of Quaternary reefs in the southernmost Belize lagoon, British Honduras. Geol Soc Am Bull 93:116–126
Denommee KC, Bentley SJ, Droxler AW (2014) Climatic controls on hurricane patterns: a 1200-y near annual record from Lighthouse Reefe, Belize. Sci Rep 4(3876):1–7. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep03876
Dill RF (1977) The blue holes, geologically significant submerged sinkholes and caves off British Honduras and Andros, Bahamas Islands. Proc 3rd Int Reef Symp 2:237–242
Dill RF, Land LS, Mack LE, Schwarcz HP (1998) A submerged stalactite from Belize: petrography, geochemistry, and geochronology of massive marine cementation. Carbonates Evaporites 13:189–197
Dillon WP, Vedder JG (1973) Structure and development of the continental margin of British Honduras. Geol Soc Am Bull 84:2713–2732
Dunham RJ (1962) Classification of carbonate rocks according to depositional texture. In: Ham WE (ed) Classification of carbonate rocks. Amer. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. Mem., vol 1, pp 108–121
Enos P (1974) Surface sediment facies map of the Florida Bahamas Plateau. Geol. Soc. Amer. S, Map MC-5
Enos P, Perkins RD (1977) Quaternary sedimentation in South Florida. Geol Soc Am Mem 147:198
Esker D, Eberli GP, McNeill DF (1998) The structural and sedimentological controls on the reoccupation of Quaternary incised valleys, Belize southern lagoon. Am Assoc Petrol Geol Bull 82:2075–2109
Ferro CE, Droxler AW, Anderson JB, Mucciarone D (1999) Late Quaternary shift of mixed siliciclastic-carbonate environments induced by glacial eustatic sea-level fluctuations in Belize. In: Harris PM, Saller A, Simo T (eds) Advances in carbonate stratigraphy—application to reservoirs, outcrops, and models. Soc. Econ. Pal. Min. Spec. Publ., vol 63, pp 385–411
Flügel E (2004) Microfacies of carbonate rocks: analysis, interpretation and application. Springer, Berlin
Fodor T (2014) Quantitative Analyse von Karbonatproduzenten und deren Verteilungsmuster im Dünnschliff von modernen Sedimenten auf Moorea, Französisch-Polynesien. Unpubl. B.Sc.-thesis, J.W. Goethe-Univ., Frankfurt, Germany
Folk RL, Ward WC (1957) Brazos River bar: a study in the significance of grain size parameters. J Sediment Petrol 27:3–26
Gabrié C, Montaggioni L (1982) Sediments from fringing reefs of Réunion Island, Indian Ocean. Sediment Geol 31:281–301
Ginsburg RN (1956) Environmental relationships of grain size and constituent particles in some south Florida carbonate sediments. Am Assoc Petrol Geol Bull 40:2384–2427
Gischler E (1994) Sedimentation on three Caribbean atolls: Glovers Reef, Lighthouse Reef and Turneffe Islands, Belize. Facies 31:243–254
Gischler E (2003) Holocene lagoonal development in isolated carbonate platforms of Belize. Sediment Geol 159:113–132
Gischler E (2011) Sedimentary facies of Bora Bora, Darwin’s type barrier reef (Society Islands, South Pacific): the unexpected occurrence of non-skeletal grains. J Sediment Res 81:1–17
Gischler E, Hudson JH (1998) Holocene development of three isolated carbonate platforms, Belize, Central America. Mar Geol 144:333–347
Gischler E, Hudson JH (2004) Holocene development of the Belize Barrier Reef. Sediment Geol 164:223–236
Gischler E, Lomando AJ (1999) Recent sedimentary facies of isolated carbonate platforms, Belize-Yucatan system, Central America. J Sediment Res 69:747–763
Gischler E, Zingeler D (2002) The origin of carbonate mud in isolated carbonate platforms of Belize, Central America. Int J Earth Sci 91:1054–1070
Gischler E, Shinn AE, Oschmann W, Fiebig J, Buster AN (2008) A 1500-year holocene caribbean climate archive from the Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef, Belize. J Coast Res 24:1495–1505
Gischler E, Anselmetti AS, Shinn EA (2013) Seismic stratigraphy of the Blue Hole (Lighthouse Reef, Belize), a late Holocene climate and storm archive. Mar Geol 344:155–162
Gischler E, Birgel D, Brunner B, Eisenhauer A, Meyer G, Buhre S, Peckmann JA (2017) A giant underwater encrusted stalactite from the Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef, Belize, revisited: a complex history of biologically-induced carbonate accretion under changing meteoric and marine conditions. J Sediment Res 87:1260–1284
Gischler E, Isaack A, Hudson JH (2017) Sediments of the Dry Tortugas, south Florida, USA: facies distribution on a ramp-like isolated carbonate platform. Sediment Geol 351:48–65
Gussmann OA, Smith AM (2002) Mixed siliciclastic-skeletal carbonate lagoon sediments from a high volcanic island, Viti Levu, Fiji, Southwest Pacific. Pac Sci 56:169–189
Hammer O, Harper DAT, Ryan PD (2001) Paleontological statistics software package for education and data analysis. Palaeontol Electron 4:1–9
Harney JN, Grossman EE, Richmond BM, Fletcher CH (2000) Age and composition of carbonate shoreface sediments, Kailua Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. Coral Reefs 19:141–154
Haug GH, Hughen KA, Sigman DM, Peterson LC, Röhl U (2001) Southward migration of the intertropical convergence zone through the Holocene. Science 293:1304–1308
Hauser I, Oschmann W, Gischler E (2007) Modern bivalve shell assemblages on three atolls offshore Belize (Central America, Caribbean Sea). Facies 53:451–478
James NP (1979) Facies models. 9. Introduction to carbonate facies models. In: Walker RG (ed) Facies models. Geoscience Canada Reprint Series 1. Geol. Assoc. Canada, pp 105–107
James NP, Ginsburg RN (1979) The geological setting of Belize reefs. In: James NP, Ginsburg RN (eds) The seaward margin of Belize Barrier and Atoll Reefs. Int. Assoc. Sediment. Spec. Publ., vol 3. Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, pp 1–15
Jones AT, Dill RF, Jackson TA (2002) Great blue hole of lighthouse reef atoll, Belize, Central America: deep technical diving to collect sea-level records. In: Caribbean geology into the third millennium: 15th caribbean geology conference, transactions, pp 181–193
Madden RHC, Wilson MEJ, O’Shea M (2013) Modern fringing reef carbonates from equatorial SE Asia: an integrated environmental sediment and satellite characterisation study. Mar Geol 344:163–185
Masse JP, Thomassin BA, Acquaviva M (1989) Bioclastic sedimentary environments of coral reefs and lagoons around Mayotte Island (Comoro Archipelago, Mozambique Channel, SW Indian Ocean. J Coast Res 5:419–432
Milliman JD (1967) Sedimentation on Hogsty Reef, a Bahamian atoll. J Sediment Petrol 37:658–676
Milliman JD (1969) Carbonate sedimentation on four southwestern Caribbean atolls and its relation to the “oolite problem.” Gulf Coast Assoc Geol Soc Trans 19:195–206
Perry CT (1996) The rapid response of reef sediments to changes in community composition: implications for time averaging and sediment accumulation. J Sediment Res 66:459–467
Perry CT (2000) Factors controlling sediment preservation on a north Jamaican fringing reef: a process-based approach to microfacies analysis. J Sediment Res 70:633–648
Purdy EG (1963) Recent calcium carbonate facies of the Great Bahama Bank. 1. Petrography and reaction groups. 2. Sedimentary facies. J. Geol. 71:334–355
Purdy EG (1974) Karst determined facies patterns in British Honduras: Holocene carbonate sedimentation model. Am Assoc Petrol Geol Bull 58:825–855
Purdy EG, Gischler E (2003) The Belize margin revisited: 1 Holocene marine facies. Int J Earth Sci 92:532–551
Purdy EG, Gischler E, Lomando AJ (2003) The Belize margin revisited: 2. Origin of Holocene antecedent topography. Int J Earth Sci 92:552–572
Rankey EC, Reeder SL (2010) Controls on platform-scale patterns of surface sediments at shallow Holocene platforms, Bahamas. Sedimentology 57:1545–1565
Reijmer JJG, Swart PK, Bauch T, Otto R, Roth S, Zechel S (2009) A reevaluation of facies on Great Bahama Bank I: new facies maps of Western Great Bahama Bank. In: Swart PK, Eberli GP, McKenzie JA (eds) Perspectives in carbonate geology: a tribute to the career of Robert Nathan Ginsburg. Int. Assoc. Sediment. Spec. Publ. 41, Wiley, Chichester
Schmitt D, Gischler E (2017) Recent sedimentary facies of Roatan (Bay Islands, Honduras), a Caribbean oceanic barrier reef system. Facies 63:5. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10347-016-0485-5
Schmitt D, Gischler E, Anselmetti FS, Vogel H (2020) Caribbean cyclone activity—an annually-resolved Common Era record. Sci Rep 10:11780
Schmitt D, Gischler E, Birgel D, Peckamnn J, Anselmetti FS, Vogel H (2020) Great Blue Hole (Lighthouse Reef, Belize): a continuous, annually-resolved record of Common Era sea surface temperature, Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and cyclone-controlled run-off. Quat Sci Rev 247:106570
Scoffin TP (1992) Taphonomy of coral reefs: a review. Coral Reefs 11:57–77
Stoddart DR (1962) Three Caribbean atolls: Turneffe Islands, Lighthouse Reef, and Glover´s Reef, British Honduras. Atoll Res Bull 87:151
Tierney JE, Abram NJ, Anchukaitis KJ, Evans MN, Giry C, Kilbourne KH, Saenger CP, Wu HC, Zinke J (2015) Tropical sea surface temperatures for the past four centuries reconstructed from coral archives. Paleoceanography 30:226–252
Udden JA (1914) Mechanical composition of clastic sediments. Geol Soc Am Bull 25:655–744
Van der Plas L, Tobi AC (1965) A chart for judging the reliability of point counting results. Am J Sci 263:87–90
Wantland KF, Pusey WC (1975) Belize shelf-carbonate sediments, clastic sediments, and ecology. AAPG Stud Geol 2:599
Wentworth CK (1922) A scale of grade and class terms for clastic sediments. J Geol 30:377–392
Woodruff SD, Diaz HF, Elms JD, Worley SJ (1998) COADS release 2 data and metadata enhancements for improvements of marine surface flux fields. Phys Chem Earth 23:517–527
Yao P, Wang XC, Bianchi TS, Yang ZS, Fu L, Zhang XH et al (2020) Carbon cycling in the world’s deepest blue hole. J Geophys Res Biogeosci. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JG005307
We would like to thank the Belize Audubon Society and the Belize Fisheries Department for site access, work permission and sample export permission. We are grateful to captain Norlan Lamb and the crew of his vessel “Miss Phillippa” for their tireless efforts to realise this project in spite of hurricane warning and logistical problems. We feel much obliged to our colleagues G. Meyer (Frankfurt) and S. Haber (Bad Karlshafen), who assisted us in many technical and operative ways during the fieldwork. We also owe a great debt of gratitude to N. Prawitz (Frankfurt) for thin-section preparation and D. Bergmann-Dörr (Frankfurt) for access to and assistance in laser optical particle analyser measurements. We thank Editor-in-chief Wolfgang Kießling, reviewer Robert Madden and another anonymous journal reviewer for their detailed and critical comments, which improved this paper.
“Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft” (DFG) supported this survey in project Gi 222/31-1.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare no competing (financial and non-financial) interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Schmitt, D., Gischler, E. & Walkenfort, D. Holocene sediments of an inundated sinkhole: facies analysis of the “Great Blue Hole”, Lighthouse Reef, Belize. Facies 67, 10 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10347-020-00615-8
- Sedimentary Facies